Plaintiffs behind a lawsuit alleging sugarcane burns are harming nearby Glades residents were forced to revise data that overstated the negative effects of those burns by 60 times.
That’s according to a newly filed document responding to sugar farmers’ efforts to dismiss the case. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue their revised projections still justify the ongoing suit, but a U.S. Sugar spokesperson is bashing those attorneys for relying on inaccurate date in refiling the case.
“From the beginning, the trial lawyers refused to acknowledge readily available monitoring data collected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” said Judy Sanchez, a U.S. Sugar spokesperson.
“Instead, they hired a consultant to create a model to generate hypothetical projections to support the claims in their second amended complaint.”
The DEP monitors air quality throughout the state and farmers say they are operating within acceptable standards. Plaintiffs, however, turned to a model to project the amount of pollutants being discharged into the air and reaching residents.
A U.S. District Judge dismissed most of the claims in May, arguing plaintiffs failed to show the burns were harming residents. In the amended complaint, filed June 22, plaintiffs pointed to the model to address the judge’s concerns.
Turns out, that data was faulty.
“As detailed in the expert declaration attached to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend, this error stemmed from the inadvertent conversion of minutes to seconds, causing the tables in Exhibit B to overstate air concentration values,” read a document filed by the plaintiffs Wednesday.
That mishandled conversation resulted in those air concentration values being off by 60 times. The newly filed document was an effort to persuade the judge to reject sugar farmers’ motion to dismiss.
Plaintiffs acknowledged catching the error on Aug. 11, a timeline noted by Sanchez in her statement bashing the plaintiffs for waiting weeks to fess up to the faulty data.
“Despite knowledge of the inaccuracies, the trial lawyers’ admittedly inflated claims went uncorrected for two weeks and were subsequently repeated in media reports that were broadcast to our local community,” Sanchez said.
“We look forward to the outlets immediately issuing a retraction and correcting their inaccurate stories. As farmers and members of the community, we rely on science-based approaches and data to guide our harvesting practices and operations. The admission is further proof that this lawsuit is simply a series of baseless allegations supported by a media campaign intended to mislead folks not familiar with farming in the Glades.”
Plaintiffs still argue that even with the data air concentration values reduced by a factor of 60, their suit still shows an actionable claim.
“Though lower, these new concentrations do not undermine the factual allegations and legal claims set forth,” the plaintiffs’ opposition to the motion to dismiss reads.
“To the contrary, they continue to affirm that (i) the impacts of each Defendant’s burning are felt by each plaintiff and throughout the class area and (ii) both individually and in the aggregate, Defendants put the health of Glades’ residents at risk and damage their property—and thus cure the standing defects previously identified by this Court.”
Sanchez disputed that characterization, as U.S. Sugar continues to try and dismiss the case.
“Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection’s air quality data shows that the air in the Glades community is safe, clean, and healthy,” Sanchez argued.
“It is unfortunate the trial lawyers continue to ignore readily available data because it is unfavorable to their efforts to attack the sugarcane farming community. No matter the number of revisions to their flawed modeling, we will continue to defend our safe and responsible farming and harvesting practices as well as the communities where we live and raise our families.”